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MM Leader: Value the real venture trusts

It is customary that the run-up to the Budget is accompanied by frenzied speculation about which areas of financial services the Government is likely to meddle with.

Chancellor George Osborne has added fuel to the flames by questioning the merits of some venture capital trusts and suggesting the Government was looking again at the tax incentives on offer.

Last week, the Office of Tax Simplification called for changes to VCTs and the enterprise investment scheme, including a simplification of the rules and aligning of time limits.

In a recent speech, Osborne went further, questioning whether some VCTs are really investing in the kind of businesses typically associated with venture capital and taking the risks deserving of the tax relief on offer.

The Treasury is right to be taking a closer look at some types of VCTs.

Around half of the money invested in VCTs last year went into limited-life VCTs which are marketed as a lower-risk option where a significant amount of the profits will come from the tax relief on offer. There are question marks about whether some schemes are really encouraging start-up business growth and deserving of the generous relief.

But the danger is that the Government damages VCTs which are making a significant contribution to economic growth, particularly at a time when banks are still reluctant to lend.

In the last 10 years, over 750 companies which may otherwise have struggled to raise funds have benefited from capital raised from VCTs.

The Government must be careful any changes do not stymie a vital means of development for many businesses and a decent investment opportunity for sophisticated investors.

Gender agenda

As expected, the European Court of Justice last week moved to outlaw gender pricing in insurance.

Despite the howls of protest, there seems little scope for challenging or overturning the decision.

The ECJ ruling is likely to accelerate a more sophisticated approach to annuity underwriting that was already under way as providers look to price their books as accurately as possible. This will result in winners and losers, irrespective of gender.

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  1. We should be telling the EU to get stuffed over the gender ruling, prisoners’ votes etc.

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